Sylvia Schur, 92; food editor developed Cran-Apple juice
NEW YORK - Sylvia Schur, a food editor who through her pioneering consulting company developed products like Clamato and Cran-Apple juice and Metrecal, wrote recipes for the fictional home chefs Ann Page and Betty Crocker, and helped conceive the menus for restaurants like the Four Seasons in Manhattan, died Wednesday in Chicago. She was 92.
The cause was respiratory failure, said her daughter, Jane S. Smith.
In an era when calorie counting and a dawning awareness of nutrition coexisted uneasily with new food technologies, Mrs. Schur helped corporations develop new products and told food editors at newspapers and magazines how to use them.
Her test kitchen in Manhattan generated consumer products like Clamato and Cran-Apple juice cocktails, the diet drink Metrecal, and cookbooks for companies like
“She was a pioneer of modern food usage,’’ said Heidi Kost-Gross, who worked for her consulting company, Creative Food Services, in its early days. “Her company was at the cutting edge of how food should look and taste and, above all, how it should be used.’’
Sylvia Zipser grew up in Sea Gate, Brooklyn. Her parents, immigrants from Galicia, in present-day Poland, ran a grocery store, and she learned to cook for her three brothers. She became interested in journalism at Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island, where she edited the school newspaper.
While at Hunter College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1939, she married Saul Schur, who died in 1988. In addition to her daughter Jane of Chicago, she leaves her brother, Philip Zipser of Cranbury, N.J.; two sons, Stephen of San Francisco and Jonathan of Paris; and seven grandchildren. Her second husband, the architect Kaneji Domoto, died in 2002.
Mrs. Schur began writing a consumer column for the newspaper P.M., where her officemate, the photographer Weegee, would test his cameras by taking flash pictures of her. She later was a food editor at Seventeen, Look, Flair, and Woman’s Home Companion.
She bubbled over with ideas, some more successful than others.
“I tried to put Jim Beard into a story called ‘The Gourmet Diet,’ ’’ she told her grandson Jeremy Smith in an oral history interview in 2001, referring to a proposal for Look. For the article, Beard, a great gourmand, was sent to a hospital for a thorough examination, weighed, and put on a strict dietary regimen.
“He was OK for about a week,’’ Mrs. Schur said. “Then I get a phone call from him. He said: ‘Sylvia, I’m sorry. I came home last night, and there was a beautiful leg of lamb I’d made in the refrigerator, and I ate it, the whole thing.’ That was the end of the gourmet diet with Jim Beard.’’
In 1958, after Woman’s Home Companion ceased publication, Mrs. Schur founded Creative Food Services, a company that combined public relations with consulting work for restaurants and food companies.
“It just sort of began like spontaneous combustion,’’ she told her grandson. “People would come to me with things. I had a lot of work to do.’’
The company was an anomaly at the time. As American women were just beginning to tune in to the messages broadcast by Julia Child and Beard and trying to reconcile the gracious-living imperative with the cold reality of convenience foods, Mrs. Schur carved out a profitable niche by providing her services to food manufacturers, the news media, and home cooks.
Companies like General Foods approached her to come up with new products, or new ideas for old ones. Clamato, the highly unlikely combination of clam broth and tomato juice, saw the light of day after Duffy-Mott, one of her early clients, acquired a small business on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that sold packaged clams and bottled clam broth. Cran-Apple helped Ocean Spray extend the cranberry season beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In the 1960s her interest in dieting and nutrition - and her private observation that many working women skimped on lunch - led her to develop Metrecal, a low-calorie but nutritious milkshake that prefigured Slim-Fast.
Mrs. Schur’s team of young women, many of them plucked from European cooking schools, worked on recipes to showcase products like Campbell’s soups or to add fancy touches to staid grocery-store items, like the frozen cube of seasoned butter and flour that expanded in the saucepan to become a sauce for Birds Eye frozen peas.
Mrs. Schur wrote many back-of-the-box recipes and cookbooks, often tied to specific products. Some were brochures that could be ordered by sending in the label from a can. Others were more ambitious, like the “The Tappan Creative Cookbook for Microwave Ovens and Ranges,’’ the “Waring Blender Cook Book,’’ and, for Campbell, “Cooking With Soup.’’ When Breakstone, a New York dairy, wanted to take its brand national, she wrote “Take a Stick of Butter,’’ a cookbook that would be dead on arrival today.
Creative Food Services, often working with big advertising agencies, provided a point of entry into the American market for foreign foods like Danish blue cheese and New Zealand lamb.
Mrs. Schur cultivated close relationships with the press, flooding newspapers around the country with information and recipes that promoted her clients’ products. She became, in effect, a food editor for publications that lacked one. More publicly, in 1978 she became the food editor at Parade Magazine, where her immediate successors were Julia Child and Sheila Lukins, later renowned for her Silver Palate cuisine, who died Aug. 30.
Although Mrs. Schur spent most of her time with commercial food products, she was a consultant for Joe Baum and Restaurant Associates and played a pivotal role in developing the menu at the Four Seasons.
Baum was an exacting client, and he laid down the law to Mrs. Schur when he suspected that she might not be able to find sources for the fresh morels listed on the restaurant’s ambitiously seasonal menu. The food writer Mimi Sheraton recalled the meeting in a 1999 article for Vanity Fair: “He glared at her and screamed, ‘If I print morels on that menu, you’d better come up with them, if you have to grow them in your armpits!’ ’’
She came up with the morels, from a gatherer in Washington state, who harvested a windfall from the deal.
Mrs. Schur sold her business in 1990 but continued to offer advice. Her style was pithy. Burger King, keen to help its plate-filling Whopper catch up with the McDonald’s Big Mac, once called in Mrs. Schur for a consultation. Breezing into a company boardroom, she proposed a three-word strategy: “Gentlemen, go vertical.’’